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Opinion No. 5333

July 12, 1978


Use of public money to support neighborhood education center


Art 8, Sec. 2 (no public monies for nonpublic schools)

Public money may not be used to pay for the cost of operating a private neighborhood education center.

Dr. John W. Porter

Superintendent of Public Instruction

Department of Education

Lansing, Michigan

You have requested my opinion on a question which may be phrased as follows:

Does the legislative appropriation of public funds for the operation of private neighborhood education centers violate Const 1963, art 8, Sec. 2?

Const 1963, art 8, Sec. 2, as amended by the people on November 3, 1970, provides in pertinent part:

'. . . No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit utilized, by the legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the state directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, preelementary, elementary or secondary school. . . .'

In Traverse City School District v Attorney General, 384 Mich 390, 406; 185 NW2d 9, 14-15 (1971) the Michigan Supreme Court held that the above quoted language 'prohibits the use of public funds 'directly or indirectly to aid or maintain' a nonpublic school.'

In 1970 PA 39, MCLA 388.701 et seq; MSA 15.2085(1) et seq, the legislature has provided for the development and operation of neighborhood education centers by sponsors. Those terms are defined in Sec. 1 therefore as follows:

'(a) 'Neighborhood education center' means a facility developed, organized and operated under the provisions of this act for the purpose of providing primarily to school drop-outs but not limited thereto, educational, cultural and social programs and services supplementary to or similar to programs and services made available by the public school system.

'(b) 'Sponsor' means a domestic nonprofit corporation which is capable of developing, organizing and operating a neighborhood education center. Sponsors may operate neighborhood educational centers in private or public facilities.'

1970 PA 39, supra, Sec. 2, provides for the creation of a State Neighborhood Education Authority, within the Department of Education, which pursuant to 1970 PA 39, supra Sec. 3(b), may contract with the sponsors who operate the neighborhood education centers. In 1977 PA 101, Sec. 1, the legislature has appropriated $618,000.00 to the Department of Education to be distributed to neighborhood education centers.

Thus, it is clear that public funds are provided to neighborhood education centers operated by private sponsors. The remaining query is whether neighborhood education centers are private schools within the meaning of Const 1963, art 8, Sec. 2.

The word 'school,' where not affected by the context in which it is used, means an institution with educational purposes or activities. Boys' Club of Detroit v Pakula, 342 Mich 150, 155-156; 69 NW2d 348, 350-351 (1955). In Traverse City, supra, 384 Mich at p 425, 185 NW2d at p 25, the Court held that public funds could be provided to private fosterhomes since they were not private substitutes for public schools.

As demonstrated by the language of Sec. 1(a) of 1970 PA 39, supra, quoted above, and Sec. 5 of the same statute, the primary purpose of private neighborhood education centers is to provide educational programs to school drop-outs that are similar to educational programs provided by public schools. Neighborhood education centers, unlike fosterhomes, are a private educational substitute for public school drop-outs. Consequently, it must be concluded that neighborhood education centers, established pursuant to 1970 PA 39, supra, are private schools within the meaning of Const 1963, art 8, Sec. 2.

Accordingly, I am constrained to hold that the legislative appropriation of public funds for the operation of private neighborhood education centers violates Const 1963, art 8, Sec. 2, which, as interpreted by the Michigan Supreme Court in Traverse City, supra, prohibits the use of public funds to aid or maintain private schools.

Frank J. Kelley

Attorney General